The Importance of Attending to and Enhancing Relationships Between Stakeholders During School Re-Opening: Saying and Hearing Everything

 

The basic psychological principles of saying everything, willingness to listen to everything, joining, and sustaining/building relationships apply even more than usual during the covid period.  With so much uncertainty, Margaret Wheatley (2004) points toward the possibility “…to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we know and trust one another (Casel.org).”

The above is not trite nor is it a “touchy/feely” statement. In order to navigate the complexities, unknowns, and pitfalls of returning to school, the first step is to take a reality check on the status of our relationships with each other. Why is this important? Without strong, trusting relationships, how can we engage in dialogues with one another that are meaningful and give us a sense of safety and security?    We begin by initiating with stakeholders-faculty, teachers, parents, community leaders-a process of listening to what each has to see about their experiences thus far with virtual learning during covid and what they would like to see going forward. Through surveys or focus groups, the following questions should be posed:

“– What has your experience been like since school has been closed?

– What is on your mind as you think about next school year?

-What are your biggest hopes or worries?

– What has our school done well during the past months, and what could we have done better?

– How might you like to contribute as we prepare to transition to a new school year?

– What will help you learn this upcoming year?

– What can we do to make school feel even more like a community that cares for you? (Casel.org).”

 

Listening to the responses to the above helps us to understand what people are feeling and thinking, and joining with them allows us to be accurately emotional responsive to their needs, a state that imparts a feeling of being heard and cared for. Without communicating our understanding and acceptance of stakeholder’s personal experiences, there is no basis for them to engage with us in the long process of getting back to some degree of normalcy. Similarly, without this kind of understanding and acceptance, we have no leverage in asking for their cooperation and collaboration in making the hard choices ahead because they will not feel heard or trust in our willingness to take care of them along the way. Including people in this way give them a feeling that they are dealing with entities that have their best interests in mind.

 

Building on this means establishing or reaffirming an openness to an ongoing relationship characterized by a reciprocal interchange of thoughts and feelings without fear of retribution or reprisal if opposing or different ideas were to be expressed. This, too, requires trust. Meetings where lip service only is given to honestly expressing thoughts or feelings are received as ingenuine and push honest communication under the rug.

 

Moreover, forums for ongoing and honest discussion between stakeholders need to be established and sustained as we are not out of the woods with covid. We are going to need to be engaging with one another to navigate our way through the potential twists and turns, and doing so in a way that engenders trust. These will be particularly important when there are disagreements about how to proceed. For example, stakeholders wanting in-person instruction may be out of sync with those who have to provide it. Here is where psycho-education, another basic principle, comes into play. Straight, accurate, and honest information needs to be obtained and disseminated about things like infection rates in the community and their impact on re-opening. While governmental and legal obligations may need to be followed, these may, too, be out of sync with how stakeholders are feeling. Compliance, but not cooperation, may be the result.

 

To truly live the principle of “we are all in this together,” dialogues between stakeholders must be established and sustained so the feeling of togetherness can be actualized.   That is, we need, more than ever, to rely on our trusted relationships as we talk our way through the pandemic. This can be done by creating working groups that contain stakeholders from across the spectrum who meet regularly and discuss how re-opening plans are working, to tweak them when they need adjusting, and to proactively anticipate problems and issues that may arise and create solutions that can be implemented as needed. Honest, open discussion must be encouraged otherwise unspoken feelings of dissent will cause difficulties. Without permission to “say everything,” dissenting feelings and points of views will go underground and often take the form of acting out, failure to cooperate, half-hearted implementation of plans, etc. While we do not always need to agree, we need to be heard, and those in decision-making positions must explain their actions, particularly if they are unpopular.

Worried About Your Student’s Progress During Remote Learning? Benchmarking and Progress Monitoring Can Help

The sudden school closures this past spring catapulted school districts into the realm of remote instruction with little preparation. Virtual learning was the safest way to attend classes; however, some students did not attend regularly or at all and task completion was a challenge as parents assumed the herculean task of working from home and trying to support their children with their education online. As a result, many parents are wondering how much (or if) their child has learned in the first round of remote schooling, and look forward to the fall with continued trepidation even with some form of combined in-person and online instruction.

Worry with no data just breeds more anxiety, making the importance of obtaining a baseline of where each child’s learning stands and then monitoring the progress going forward paramount. Standardized tests that were developed to be administered online can provide the hard data parents, teachers, and tutors are seeking to know where each student ranks in a representative sample of same grade peers. The findings of these assessments will give an accurate picture of whether students are functioning on grade level and what areas of reading and math require more attention.

As schools attempt to resume some in-person instruction, child study teams may begin to conduct testing. However, most districts are backlogged with testing not conducted or completed and these teams provide testing primarily for students with or suspected of having special needs. For the majority of students, response to intervention teams (RTI) may also become backed up as students return and many RTI teams may not do testing.

Parents seeking some concrete information about their student can obtain this privately without further delay and then use the findings to help their child stay afloat for the remainder of the social distancing era. Parents, teachers, and tutors can target areas of concern now instead of taking the chance of losing another part of an academic year.

To Test or Not to Test: The Pros and Cons of Remote and in-Person Testing During Covid

Like many other aspects of life during covid, the decision about whether to test, and, if so, whether to test remotely or in-person has raised many issues to consider. The following is a brief compilation/summary of these issues as discussed in the sources contained at the end of this narrative.

With regard to remote testing, although testing platforms have been opened by the publishing companies, the aggregation of guidance does not support it as it involves significant departures from the way the instruments were standardized. These considerations are in addition to issues relating to having adequate and stable technological resources, being unable to control environmental conditions in students’ homes, using parents or other adults as co-administrators or monitors, not having adequately trained professionals in telehealth assessment, safeguarding the security of testing materials, and more. The research that exists supporting tele-assessment as equivalent to in-person testing is, as one expert states, in its’ “nascent” stages.

While in-person testing diminishes some of these concerns, it presents different challenges. The requirements by regulatory agencies to safeguard the health of evaluators, students, and their families via the use of PPE (i.e. masks, face shields, plastic dividers)  and social distancing, the latter hard to do when testing, present unknown variables as to how these will influence the reliability and validity of the evaluation and the social emotional health of students who may experience discomfort to performing with these safety adaptations. Again, the instruments were not standardized with covid precautions in mind.

Taken together, the principle of informed consent must be extended to these special situations such that parents and other consumers of the results of remote and in-person evaluations must be made aware of the conditions under which testing was conducted and how they may influence the findings. One important consideration is whether the consumers of the test reports will be unhappy with the results and decide not to accept them given all of the above limitations with respect to insuring reliability and validity. Certainly, all of these considerations need to be discussed beforehand so that all stakeholders are informed and agree to going forward with the testing. In this regard, the Farmer et al. article about the dangers of testing with good intentions should be reviewed.

All of the guidance also points to the importance of whether testing needs to be conducted at all at this point of time or whether other information (i.e. functional data; previous testing; curriculum-based assessment) may be used to make determinations about eligibility for services or placement so that students are not denied their rights to appropriate supports. Where testing may be done without compromising the results as in the use of survey or online inventories, these are appropriate to utilize to gather needed data.

The original sources below should be reviewed carefully in making decisions about testing during the pandemic.

 

InterOrganizational Practice Committee Recommendations/Guidance for Teleneuropsychology (TeleNP) in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic (https://iopc.squarespace.com/hygiene-strategies),

Ryan L. Farmer,1 Ryan J. McGill,2 Stefan C. Dombrowski,3 Nicholas F. Benson,4 Stephanie Smith-Kellen,1 Adam B. Lockwood,5 Steven Powell,1 Christina Pynn,1 and Terry A. Stinnett (2020). Conducting Psychoeducational Assessments During the COVID-19 Crisis: the Danger of Good Intentions. Contemp Sch Psychol. Jun 2 : 1–6.

Hiramoto, J. (2020). Mandated special education assessments during the COVID-19 shutdown (California Association of School Psychologists position paper). Retrieved from http://www.casponline.org

Luxton, D.D., Pruitt, L.D., and Osenbach, E. (2014).  Best Practices for Remote Psychological Assessment via Telehealth Technologies. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol. 45, No. 1, 27–35;

American Psychological Association:

 https://www.apaservices.org/practice/clinic/covid-19-neuropsychological-psychological-testing, (https://www.apaservices.org/practice/reimbursement/health-codes/testing/psychological-telehealth),

New Jersey Association of School Psychologists:

(http://www.njasp.org/), including the Summer 2020 newsletter detailing testing concerns when conducting in-person assessments using covid adaptations.

 

How to Talk with Kids about Racism and Violence: A Starting Point

 

Being a parent these days is becoming even more challenging than ever before. First, we have had to navigate the pandemic with our kids, including the uncertainty and the resultant feelings of anxiety and lack of control. In the past week, parents and kids have been exposed repeatedly to scenes of an African American man, George Floyd, being subjected to police actions that contributed to his death, followed by more imagery of protests, some turning violent, across the country. How can parents make sense of these events for themselves and their children?

Although these times and events are extraordinary and cumulative, talking with kids about traumatic situations follow some basic principles that may become lost in the fog of the past weeks news cycle.

First, parents have to take their own emotional temperature to see how they are feeling. This is especially important because kids respond most to the emotional communications that accompany the explanations we offer. Remember, it is the music that counts more than the lyrics!

Second, minimize repeated exposure to violent media content. The events of the past week are available 24/7 and while it is essential for kids and parents to talk, there may be a tendency for kids (and even adults) to expose themselves to repeated images as a way of trying to digest and cope with the traumatic events of the past week. Find a source you can trust to get the news, and when children watch, view the news with them and discuss what they are seeing.

Third, when talking with your children, start with these general principles:

  • Ask what they know about George Floyd’s death and the protests. Children have access to information in many ways and assume they have some information. This will help you to share only what they need to know and what inaccurate information or perceptions to correct and discuss.
  • Answer questions simply and be prepared to answer the same questions more than once. Adjust your explanations depending on the age and developmental level of your child. Remember that repeating questions is a way children signal that they continue to have concerns.
  • Do not get put off by questions or demands that seem inappropriate.
  • Assure children (particularly young children) that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe. Remember that children view events through their own developmental lenses and want to know basic things like: are you safe? Will I be safe?
  • Reinforce basic routines because consistency breeds a feeling of safety and control.
  • Be honest. If you do not know the answer to a question, say so and offer to try to find the answer.

Fourth, consider the following suggestions when discussing racism and violence.

 

 

Being a Good Enough Parent In the Age of Covid-19

Back in 2011, I wrote a blog entitled, “Becoming A Good Enough Parent,” and just recently, I gave a webinar about the importance of being “good enough” for parents struggling to navigate the current crisis, an idea mentioned in a Times opinion piece (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/24/opinion/coronavirus-parents-work-from-home.html?searchResultPosition=1.)

The concept of “good enough,” has even more import these days as parents berate themselves and engage in self-criticism for a myriad of perceived faults including, the failure to: instruct their kids properly in this time of remote education; find creative ways to occupy their children; juggle work and home life; etc.

Using the metaphor of parents needing to put the oxygen mask over their faces first on a plane when the cabin depressurizes as they will be unable to care for their children while unconscious, I want to share with parents that it is most important that they take  care of themselves and stop engaging in self-criticalness in this extraordinary time.

Bruno Bettelheim, in his book, “A Good Enough Parent,” stated that parents should avoid striving to be perfect parents, and, in turn, not expect to raise perfect children because perfection is “not within the grasp of ordinary human beings.” Especially during the covid period, trying to be perfect does much more harm than good and raises the bar to unreasonable heights where perceived shortcomings become magnified. In contrast, becoming a good enough parent first means to reject the goal of perfection, and, instead, recognize that good enough parenting really means that most of the time we  do our best to do well by them. In a parallel way, we do not berate kids when they complain about virtual education, and missing their friends, recognizing they, too, are trying to find their way. Being good enough parents means trying to understand our children’s perspective even when we do not agree to it because genuinely trying to understand how they think and feel goes a long way to making them feel you care and hear them, creating the atmospheric conditions for more cooperation from them.

Another important fact to remember for guilt ridden parents who berate themselves for not being the kind of parent they would like to be is that children are resilient, softening the expressed self-indictment of parents who feel that they are permanently damaging their children due to their own shortcomings. Being good enough will help kids weather this crazy period in a good enough way. This is because parents who feel good enough will likely be less anxious and communicate a confidence to kids who learn to be the people they will be via reflected appraisals, and parents who reflect calm instill the same in their children.

Equally important is to recognize that, paradoxically, there is a lot of good that can come out of this extraordinary time. That is, parents can model for kids patience, frustration tolerance, and the capacity to make lemonade out of lemons by creatively tweaking the disappointments kids (and parents) experience by being unable to go places, see people, celebrate important events, etc. These are extremely important character traits that can be practiced and developed as we try to come up with creative ways to manage what we have lost and create solutions that are, while not optimal, good enough until we can resume normal life.

Remote Instruction Fatigue: The New Epidemic

It has been approximately eight weeks since we were placed on stay at home status, requiring teachers, students, faculty, and practitioners of all kinds to pivot to provide instruction and services remotely. During this time, we have all learned more than we ever wanted to know about things like wifi strength, bandwith, headphones, zoom, google, and various other platforms that have sprung up to meet the needs of families and schools. At the same time, we have simultaneously marveled about how quickly we all made the change to virtual life while lamenting the fact that we have lost, at least temporarily, the option of actual in-person instruction and have had to tolerate weak wifi reception, dropped calls and sessions, interlopers hacking into meetings, and, a general sense of remote instruction fatigue (RIF).

RIF may be characterized by a preoccupation with: a feeling of anxiousness prior to a virtual instruction session; a concern about how many students are attending each meeting and/or completing assignments; following up with those students not in attendance or exhibiting poor task completion; a reluctance to press parents who themselves may be struggling on many fronts to enlist their aid with their student; parents and students expecting you to be available 24/7; and preparing an endless stream of assignments to accompany virtual instruction sessions.

While teaching is a vocation that normally requires boundless energy and time to perform the myriad tasks involved in delivering instruction on a daily basis, remote instruction adds a qualitatively different strain to educators, and by the end of the day, a different type of exhaustion has set in. Dealing with students who normally present with a lack of enthusiasm for school in the current virtual environment makes the task of keeping them centered and on point even more challenging.

Now, there are some “perks” to this virtual world. There are no long commutes to work, no lunches to make, and no dress codes to which to adhere. Having the time to explore the online world is another such “perk” as we have no other choice if we want to remain viable. Moreover, thinking out of the box, an important skill at any time, is more in demand these days as we must constantly create and re-create ourselves and how we work.

How about the inherent paradoxes of virtual instruction? While teachers and parents normally struggle with keeping students’ attention and off of the web, we now are faced with using the web as a lifeline. The competition with all of the myriad web-based distractions still exists and we must find ways to work around them. For example, joining with kids by having them teach us aspects of the web, how certain video games work, and, implicitly, signaling our interest in the virtual world can being us all closer and diminish conflicts about being online.

Yet, we are by now yearning for the in-person contact we all took for granted. Getting offline and doing something else is essential to prevent an increase in RIF. Little things like doing puzzles, playing board games, reading a book, exercising and many more activities take on new meaning.

Like anything else, new situations bring with them a period of adaptation. RIF may be a reaction to the sudden and intense changes in education and healthcare. The pendulum, however, will eventually swing back to the middle and online activity will take a new place in our daily lives-but, once this crisis ends, it will be counterbalanced by in-person life. Hang in-we are slowly getting there! Watch for signs of RIF and do something to deflect it.

The Kids May Be All Right: How About the Parents?

To quote that famous philosopher, Adam Sandler, “If I’m teaching math to my kids, this country is in trouble!” This is a sentiment shared by many parents as they have been forced, unprepared, to step into the role of teacher/teacher aide in this time of remote instruction.

Some parents have lamented the fact that they are having problems balancing work-at-home with home instruction, that they do not remember how to teach math or narrative writing or science. Some feel like the home instruction police department as they must monitor their children so they attend online classes and complete assignments. Many feel guilty about allowing or even encouraging kids to play games online so they can work or get a break-something they would limit in regular times.

Most of all, parents feel exhausted, frustrated, and worried about their children’s education, and feel guilty about the less than optimal job they feel they are doing. Catastrophizing about the long-term effects of their efforts consumes them and they are anxious about how their kids will be able to catch up.

While all of he above feelings are certainly valid, they are only feelings. To use the metaphor of the airlines instruction to parents accompanying children on a plane, grownups need to put the oxygen mask on themselves first in the event of a loss of cabin pressure-otherwise they will not be available to assist their children. Similarly, in this time of virtual instruction, parents need to give themselves a break and take that deep breath they need to sustain themselves.

This is not to say that their worries are not valid. However, focusing on their own as well as their children’s mental health is paramount because without it, no one would be available for instruction. This means recognizing the surreal times we now live in and taking as objective a look as possible as to what they are able to offer. Kids learn the most from the school of the family. They learn most through internalized images. Parents faces are like mirrors and the reflections are internalized. Consequently, even if parents cannot remember how to solve a math problem, the reflection of their supportive,  caring demeanor can go a long way to soothing the shared frustrations of online learning.

Parents need to trust that teachers and schools recognize the limits of virtual instruction and are already planning how to “catch-up.” So, while I would not say that parents should not worry, I would recommend that they keep their worries to themselves, and, instead, try to put on an academy award winning performance so that kids will not worry more than necessary. Just as you assure them you are doing everything to keep them safe during the pandemic, your reassurance about how you will keep them safe academically-since school is really their kids’ “job”-because when kids do not feel safe at school due to feelings that they cannot master the necessary skills, they feel frustrated worried, and even depressed.

This does not mean that kids should be told that it is all right not to do any work. Doing the best you can is in order now as it was during more normal times. It is imperative that parents do not beat themselves up. They are very likely doing a yeoman’s job. Moreover, they are teaching their kids patience, increasing their tolerance for frustration, and building resilience. These are invaluable skills. We will all get through this-let’s just stop beating ourselves or our kids up or in the process.

Combating Social Isolation, Negative Thinking, and Uncertainty During the Pandemic

 

All of us value certainty and the ability to control our lives. While everyday life normally poses challenges to both certainty and control, the current pandemic raises the bar. We do not know when it will end, when a vaccine will be available, and when things will go back to the normal uncertainties of life.

In this instance, it is of utmost important to recognize what we can control and what is currently out of our reach. Our response depends on acting on the former, and not harping on the latter. Controlling what we can actually involves taking some steps that we might ordinarily take during more normal times. However, they take on more meaning now.

TO MAINTAIN REGULARITY, WE HAVE TO CONTINUE TO ACT IN REGULAR WAYS.

These include:

Setting a regular schedule, and continuing activities of daily living like showering, getting dressed, eating well, and adhering to a rational sleep schedule.

It is important to prepare for the day as if we were going off to work or school rather than foregoing these things because we are going inside. It is fine to lounge around in pajamas at times you would normally do that like on weekends.

Try to fight the urge to eat badly. It is a normal human tendency to eat more and eat the “wrong” foods for us when we are feeling stressed. This is a time when food is not as plentiful or as easily accessible as usual and this makes it a good time to modify some bad eating habits.

Time can become a blur as days merge into days. Staying up late may, for some of us, be an escape, and, conversely, for others, sleeping more can ease the boredom as our activities become limited. Try to maintain a regular schedule and then “treat yourself” to something different on weekends, special occasions like birthdays, or a” whenever you need it” day.

Recognizing that feeling anxious is an acceptable response to these anxious times. Do not beat yourself up for feeling anxious. It is important, however, to avoid triggers that can set off anxiety. Limiting exposure to the media onslaught and obtaining the facts that you need from a reliable source like the CDC ( https://www.cdc.gov/) can help. It is more important than ever to offset or deflect anxiety by practicing breathing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uxbdx-SeOOo&t=158s and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRPh_GaiL8s), relaxation, and imagery (http://www.dawnbuse.com/relaxation/) because our physical body is connected to our mind and working on calming ourselves will trigger a relaxation response in our brains rather than an anxious one.

Recognizing also that becoming more irritable or angry than usual is a likely response to the current stresses and trying not to take these feelings out on significant others. Irritability and anger are the result of frustration and are likely to be heightened by being in close quarters for an extended period of time. While it is easier and may feel more satisfying in the moment to “let others have it” in your close circle, in the long run, it will only put greater stress on our relations with those we love. Exploding about dishes in the sink or clothes on the floor may be part of a general tendency to react out of proportion to the situation. It would be better to let everyone knows your expectations and how you will react if they are violated than going off on a child or spouse.

-Challenge negative thoughts that may arise by making a written or mental list to dispute each negative thought. Using our smart brains to combat unhelpful thoughts can diminish their power.

Regulate your use of substances to soothe yourself just as you would try not to eat badly. Having a glass of wine or a beer is different from binge drinking to drive away the intolerable feelings. Use the strategies cited above instead.

Build in some exercise to your day either via using online videos or taking a walk or a run outside while maintaining social distancing;

Take the time to do things at home that you never have the time to do (i.e. cleaning the basement, attic, or closet);

-Engage in a hobby or find one you never had time for;

COMBAT SOCIAL ISOLATION BY REACHING OUT TO FAMILY, FRIENDS, NEIGHBORS AND COLLEAGUES. Stay connected by creating a “call” list of those you can contact each day. Calling others who need the contact will also make you feel better about helping someone else and deflect feelings of powerlessness.

Using Stay at Home Time to Better Understand and Manage Your Child’s Online Gaming Practices

Even in normal times, parents complain about their children’s’ online gaming habits. They wonder why kids need to be online from the moment they return from school to all hours of the day, and why they do not prefer to spend in-person time with their peers or go outside rather than staying inside. At present, conflicts about being online may heighten as academics is being presented online. In some instances, parents struggle with children who prefer to be online rather than doing their school work, resulting in diminishing grades and performance. Yet, video gaming has become a primary pastime for children, adolescents, and even many adults, surpassing more traditional pursuits like television. Moreover, the kinds of questions noted above may reflect a lack of understanding of the importance and value of the virtual world for their children. How can parents gain and utilize this understanding while at the same time addressing their concerns about the effects of video gaming on their child and their family?

First, it will be important to gain a good understanding of the psychological and social value of gaming for kids. The kinds of games, and, even more importantly, the kind of characters with which kids identify can go a long way to understanding how the gaming is satisfying their underlying needs. Through the games, kids can engage in fantasy that allows them to do things they would ordinarily not do or be someone they would ordinarily not be. Children with social anxiety or depression can be different online. Difficult situations like confrontation can be more safely addressed online through fantasy solutions. The key here is taking this information and generalizing it to the real world. This is akin to what happens in play therapy where children can “play out” their issues and find solutions to them. In play therapy, the therapist is there as a guide. In the video gaming world, once parents gain an understanding of what the characters and emotions involved in the gaming are providing for their child, they, too, can serve as a guide. Implicit in all of the above is the strategy of joining with their child through showing a genuine interest in what is important to them, engaging them around it by having them share about the games they choose, the important characters, the characters successes or failures, etc. In this way, the experience of gaming can be collaborative instead of confrontational. Children can then feel understood and that parents care about what is important to them. Now, more than ever, the gaming experience provides a social outlet for kids and it is important not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

This in no way means that gaming schedules (or the lack thereof) that upset the balance of family life cannot be similarly discussed. However, the most constructive way to engage in these types of discussions is to use consultation strategies with children. That is, consulting with kids gives the same collaborative, joining experience rather than interrogation methods. Inviting kids to give their opinions even when we disagree provides a forum for discussion. Consulting does not “give away” parental authority. It just gives parents a better way to exercise their authority. Allowing kids to explain their points of view can help to understand them better, gives them a permission to express their objections, and allows you to discuss those objections. Agreeing to disagree in the open is better than having resentments fester, a situation that fosters bad feelings and acting out.

 

 

A Survival Guide for Parents During the Outbreak: Tips for Nurturing Parent-Child Relationships

If dealing with the constant flow of bad news about the outbreak were not enough, staying at home with your children can add a huge amount of stress. More than ever, relationships between parents and kids as well as between parents, will be tested and must be nurtured as they are the key to maintaining emotional regulation and well-being.

Here are some issues that have arisen thus far and some ideas about how to address them:

  • Minimize exposure to the media.  While this has been said repeatedly, it is so important that it is worth saying again. If you need the facts, go to a reliable source like the CDC website (gov). Hearing reports about how many people have become infected and died may inform you about the seriousness of the disease, but this is something we already know. Preserve yourself and your family by limiting this kind of exposure.
  • Discuss the online paradox with your kids. Paradoxically, the move to online instruction has complicated an already conflicted area of parent-child relationships. While many parents and kids struggle with each other about how much time to spend online and monitoring online content in normal times, the virtual world has now become primary in our stay in place environment. Nevertheless, parents will need to engage in discussions (note the plural!) with their kids about online use. Even where families have adequate access to devices for all members, an ongoing discussion should be started about how much to be online, and how to set parameters so that online academic instruction and online socializing and entertainment do not conflict. This should include:

setting a schedule for each type of activity. Here is another no brainer although often easier said than done. The key here is for parents to create a schedule together with their kids. Even though there may be disagreements about how much online time is to be scheduled and what type of activities, websites, etc., it is better to have objections voiced proactively before implementing a schedule. Otherwise, kids may violate the schedule when parents are not monitoring them. To go a step further, seek out objections because talking about disagreements lowers the probability of prohibitions being violated secretly.

revisiting schedules regularly. It is likely that revisions will have to be made to schedules or complaints will be voiced and the latter should be discussed in a regular weekly meeting. One way to proactively diminish acting out as a protest against a schedule perceived as unfair, is to set up a complaint box where kids and parents can drop their objections which would then be reviewed and discussed. Different family members can rotate in the job of director of complaints and collect the complaints and report on them in family meetings.

engaging kids as experts in technology and the web. Since many kids are more knowledgeable about technology and websites than some parents, embrace this and give struggles about online use a turn by having kids teach parents how to do things online, how to use different platforms, etc. Instead of fighting about online use, make this area a constructive activity by elevating kids to be the teachers.

scheduling non-online activities. Exercise remains an important part of a weekly schedule and whether this means taking a walk, a run, doing exercises at home, it is a way to burn off excess nervous energies and calories. Using online websites to direct exercising would be another way to use virtual life constructively.

arranging an online book club to discuss books that were read. Parents can arrange with other parents that their kids read material either provided by school or chosen on their own and then set up a virtual meeting to discuss what was read. This is another constructive way to use online life and will nurture social relationships as well.

  • Recognize that you or your kids may become more on edge than usual and be more irritable. Being inside in more confined ways leads to boundary problems and kids and adults may find they become angrier more quickly than usual or become angry out of proportion to the situation. Parents and kids may wish to use the following proactively:

Know your triggers

Stop yourself from an angry meltdown by removing yourself from the situation to create some distance

-Utilize breathing exercises (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uxbdx-SeOOo&t=158s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRPh_GaiL8s) or progressive muscle relaxation https://www.mottchildren.org/health-library/ta4146 to “cool down”

-Return to the scene when calmer and have a discussion about your triggers. Ask offending family members what they were hoping to accomplish by activating your triggers. Try not to reward bad behavior by giving in to excessive or unreasonable demands in order to stop it as this will only heighten the probability of the demands recurring.

  • Most importantly, take care of yourself as a way of being available to others. This may sound naive when parents must care for kids and themselves, work at home, and procure food and other necessary items. However, the only other choice-not taking care of yourself-will not serve you well. All of the above applies to adults as well to maintain your emotional and physical well-being.
  • Constantly work to nurture relationships with your kids and adult partners as this is the key to surviving with the least amount of friction as possible. Talking can help.